The purpose of a ballot, a mail-out ballot that will be sent out toward the end of August into the first of September, is critical to every resident of Grant County. The one item on the ballot will address the need to re-authorize the 1/8 gross receipts tax increment to fund Central Dispatch, its operating expenses, including salaries and benefits, as well as computers, office supplies, equipment maintenance and utilities, such as Internet connections, telephone, electrical and water.
The ballot must be returned by 7 p.m., Tuesday, Sept. 18, by mail or dropped off at the Grant County Clerk's Office.
Dispatchers at Central Dispatch man (or woman) the telephones and computers 24/7 in eight-hour shifts, or in cases of higher volume, such as saturation patrols or roadblocks, for 12-hour shifts.
The main computer for the office is off-site, with a backup at another site. The office has battery backup to keep Dispatch on the air until a generator can kick in. Internet connectivity also has multiple backups and contingencies built into the system. In case of a massive failure of Internet, phones and electricity, the closest backup is Lordsburg.
If you have just had a severe accident, been the victim of a crime, or your house is on fire, don't you want to know that 911 is always available, and law enforcement, firefighters or emergency services will be at your side in mere minutes?
If the tax increment, which is less than a penny on every dollar you purchase and pay in gross receipts tax, sunsets on Dec. 31, 2012, emergency services and law enforcement will likely be dispatched through Lordsburg or Las Cruces, adding confusion and time to the minutes of response to what can be a life-or-death situation.
Some expensive equipment, such as radio consoles and some computer equipment is paid for through legislative allocation or periodically through the 911 Fund, which pays for new equipment on an average of every five years.
But the day-to-day expenses of dispatching emergency medical services to save lives, sending out law enforcement to confront criminals and fire departments to face blazing buildings or fields is paid to Central Dispatch through the $600,000 to $650,000 it costs to run the 911 system.
That funding comes from the 1/8 increment gross receipts tax you pay on goods and services, excluding food.
Central Dispatch also records all calls for legal reasons and is the central depository for warrants for Grant County courts, in hard copy and in digital form, using computer-aided dispatch.
The CAD, as computer-aided dispatch is called, is a web portal to the National Crime Information Center for driver's license and criminal history information, among other things. The CAD is not connected to the phone, but only to the Internet.
When a 911 call is received from a landline, the name, address and phone number of the caller is plotted on a map. From a cellular phone, the system searches towers to locate the phone, so it takes a bit longer before it is plotted on a map.
The 51 cents a month you pay on your landline and/or cell phone goes to Santa Fe for the New Mexico 911 Fund, which funds only 911 phone equipment and training. It is governed by statue.
The 1/8 increment GRT has been funding operating expenses for Central Dispatch for 10 years. It is not a new tax. The ballot seeks reauthorization of the tax to continue funding 911 for the future.
"Once the tax is passed this time, it will stay in place until a vote takes place not to have the tax," Jean Fortenberry, Central Dispatch director, said. "By statute, we are allowed to charge up to a ¼ increment, but the 1/8 has been adequate. Up until the mines closed, dispatch was always in the black, but we've been in the red since then, and the city and the county have had to make up the shortfall."